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House District 5A: Persell bests Howes in incumbent battle

Rep. John Persell, DFL-Bemidji, visits with a supporter while awaiting election results Tuesday night at the Holiday Inn Express. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI – Rep. John Persell will retain his seat in the Minnesota House, which now finds itself again in the majority after Tuesday’s election.

Persell, DFL-Bemidji, easily defeated Larry Howes, a veteran Republican representative from Walker, in a battle of incumbents.

Persell received 10,901 votes, or 56.1 percent, to Howes’ 8,497 votes, or 43.8 percent. The victory helped Minnesota Democrats to gain a 73-60 edge over Republicans for the next legislative session.

“It’s still soaking in,” Persell said Wednesday afternoon as he spent time collecting campaign yard signs. “If we set ourselves out to do what’s best for Minnesota, I think it will almost be pleasurable.”

District lines redrawn earlier this year pitted Persell against Howes in a district that includes parts of Beltrami, Cass and Itasca counties.

Persell was first elected in 2008 and he was a constant target of Republicans this fall.

“People had their belly full of negative ads,” he said, adding the DFL will have its first caucus today.

After receiving voters’ backing for his third term, Persell said he’s ready to go to work for issues important to northern Minnesota. His priorities include funding for a veterans’ home in Bemidji, revising the state’s tax structure, funding for education and bonding for local infrastructure projects.

“The vets’ home is a real big thing for me,” Persell said.

A DFL controlled House and Senate will join Gov. Mark Dayton in governing the state, providing some Persell hope the state can move forward fixing its financial woes.

“We didn’t make as much progress as I would have liked” during the past four years, he said. “Hopefully we can tackle that now.”

Howes, first elected in 1998, said Wednesday he doesn’t know what he’ll do next.

“The people decided,” he said. “Life goes on… Thanks to the people of Bemidji and Beltrami County for getting out to vote and thanks to Persell for a clean campaign.”

It was a hotly contested and expensive race featuring a heavy direct mail campaign.

“It was a hill to climb and we just couldn’t get to the top,” Howes said. “It was a big turnout for the DFL and a low turnout for the Republicans.”

Howes said several months ago he was looking at the district’s constituency and “the numbers just weren’t there.”

Legislators earn $31,140 per year, plus a per diem for living and travel expenses during the session.

House seats are two-year terms.

Steve Wagner

Grand Forks Herald Editor Steve Wagner can be reached at 701.780.1104 and He joined the Herald in April 2013, and previously worked as editor at the Bemidji (Minn.) Pioneer and in several roles -- including news director, investigative reporter and crime reporter - at The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. His reporting experience includes coverage of Dru Sjodin's disappearance and the federal death penalty case for her murderer, Alfonso Rodriguez Jr., along with several investigative projects. In his spare time, Wagner is an avid runner and occasionally writes about his experiences on his blog, Addicted to Running.

(701) 780-1104